Chris Tillman’s brief banishment to the bullpen, it seems, didn’t solve the 2017 struggles for the Orioles right-hander.
Tillman, shifted back into the club’s rotation to provide extra rest for other Orioles starters, labored through another erratic outing against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
Tillman was tagged for four runs in 5 1/3 innings, the ninth time in his 16 starts that he’s allowed four or more earned runs. But you could argue that the damage should’ve been worse. Tillman struggled badly with his command, issuing six walks to tie a career high. He threw more balls (50) than strikes (49).
A pair of double-play grounders helped Tillman erase some baserunners. But he also became the latest victim of the Angels’ home run derby weekend, giving up round trippers to Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons, the Angels’ 10th and 11th of the three-game series.
“I probably should have been much better,” Tillman said. “You cut the walks in half, that’s a different ballgame. That’s just too many. Too many to try to pitch out of. You can’t expect to win a game walking that many.
“Other than that, I thought it was OK. Made some good offspeed pitches, fastball was a little better. I still think it was a step in the right direction, minus the walks. I’ve got to limit those.”
Tillman (1-7) ended up with a no-decision and remains winless since his season debut May 7. His season ERA sits at 7.75.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time, if you start dwelling on that, and start thinking about that, you’re not going to make any progress,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to stay focused and keep working on what you need to do. If you stay true to who you are, it’ll iron itself out. And I think we’re definitely getting back to where we need to be.”
Manager Buck Showalter saw signs of progress from Tillman despite the control-challenged outing.
“I thought his stuff was a little crisper,” Showalter said. “Fastball was pretty consistent, but command was a challenge for him. … The walks I’m sure he’d like to have back. There were some pitches that were just balls out of his hand. There’s not really anything competitive you can get back with those pitches. Better than his last outing, and hopefully he’ll build on it.”
Tillman believes his side work with pitching coach Roger McDowell has paid dividends.
“Actually a lot of it did,” Tillman said. “It just didn’t all come together. There were random spots here and there where it kind of got away. But it’s to the point now where I feel it, I can get out of it for a little bit, get back on track, get back out of it, fight back in. I know what’s going on, and I’m able to make some adjustments.”
Now, for the million-dollar question: will Tillman stay in the rotation? Showalter seems to be leaning that way, but didn’t confirm whether he’ll stay on a regular turn or just make spot starts when needed.
“He’ll start again. We’re trying to give some guys some rest,” Showalter said. “Exactly when it is after the off day, we’re going to kind of wait and see how things go, so we won’t really set things in stone until after the off day.”
Tillman’s Sunday performance didn’t make the decision much easier. If he’d been great against the Angels, keeping him in the rotation would be a slam dunk. If he’d been disastrous, he’d likely be headed back to the bullpen for more tweaks. Instead, he ended up somewhere in the middle.
If the Orioles stand any chance of fighting back into the race, having an effective Tillman contributing to the rotation would go a long way. The Orioles’ starting staff has regressed lately; before Tillman’s outing Sunday, four consecutive starters had failed to pitch five innings. So Tillman helped a bit, if not enough to lead the club to a victory.
Tillman wasn’t exactly the solution to the Orioles’ rotation problems on Sunday. Still, he kept the team in the game. For now, that might be the best the Orioles can hope for.
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